Because our regular column has not appeared in theStandard Bearer for quite some time, there is a lot of news to catch up on. Perhaps there is even too much for one column, for the file in my desk where interesting items are stored for future use is jammed. But it does need cleaning out, and so we shall try to bring our readers up to date. The various news items do not-necessarily appear in order of importance.
For a long time a battle has waged between liberals and conservatives within the Southern Presbyterian Church. The issues have been not only concentrated in arguments over departures in doctrine, but also disagreements over membership in the COCU (Consultation on Church Union) talks, and union with the Northern Presbyterians.
Several conservative groups have sprung up within the Church who have made an effort to stem the liberal tide. These conservative groups have united and have formed the vanguard in a secessionist movement and are now in the process of forming a new denomination. Over two hundred congregations have already voted to join the new denomination, and there are hopes that more will follow.
The denomination that is in the process of being formed has as its goal the preservation of the historic Presbyterian faith and Church Order as contained especially in the Westminster Confessions.
This movement is somewhat different from the course of events in most denominations. There are struggles going on in nearly every major denomination in this country and abroad. But in most instances there are no efforts made to secede from a parent denomination which is going the way of apostasy. Usually the leaders seem to lack the spiritual courage to preserve the heritage of the denomination in a secessionist movement. The Southern Presbyterians are the exception.
The same struggle between liberals and conservatives has been fiercely waged within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. There too the fight was about the infallibility of the Scriptures, false teachings in the Seminaries and Churches, departure in doctrine and practice which permeated the Church.
Two years ago a conservative was elected as President of the Synod. During his tenure the battle concentrated in the struggle to clean house in the Synod’s most important Seminary, Concordia. There a large part of the faculty were accused of teaching views contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. President Preus launched an investigation which proved abundantly that it was true beyond doubt that Concordia had become a hotbed of heresy. But nothing apparently could be done until this year’s Synod in New Orleans.
At this year’s Synod, the conservatives won a solid victory. The votes on key issues were, according to reporters, divided 55% to 45% in favor of the conservatives. Preus was re-elected to a second term even though a well-organized movement had attempted to dump him. Men of the conservative forces were elected to most key posts within the denomination. And the way now seems cleared for Preus to pursue his goal of cleaning out Concordia Seminary and launching a major conservative counter-attack within the denomination to bring the Church back to historical Lutheranism.
This too is a rather surprising development. Usually when a denomination has gone as far as the Missouri Synod Lutherans, there is no turning back. The way downhill is steeper and traveled more swiftly. If Preus and the conservatives can effect a genuine return to historic Lutheranism within the denomination, this will be no small accomplishment.
The liberals however, are already anticipating final victory. They are convinced that, if they stay within the denomination, time is on their side and the final victory of the liberal forces is assured within the next few years.
There are several news items from the Netherlands that are of interest. They are taken from recent issues of the RES Newsletter. The first has to do with a new professor for theology in the Free University.
Dr. J. Veenhof of Basel, Switzerland, has been designated to succeed G. C. Berkouwer as Professor of Dogmatics in the Theological Faculty of the Free University of Amsterdam. Dr. Veenhof is the son of Prof. C. Veenhof (emeritus) of the Liberated Reformed Churches (buiten verband) in Kampen and is at” present a pastor of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Basel. He will begin his duties in the fall.
Dr. Veenhof earned his degree (cum laude) at the University of Gottingen under Prof. Otto Weber. His dissertation dealt with the views of Herman Bavinck on revelation and inspiration.
Prof. Berkouwer retires on June 8 at the age of 70. He has occupied the chair of dogmatics at the Free University since 1940.
This is the first time in the history of the Free University that a man has occupied the position, held both by Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck, who is not a member of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The appointment emphasizes the inter-denominational character of the Free University.
Observers find it significant that the successor of Berkouwer is not a proponent of the ‘New Theology.’ Dr. Veenhof represents a conservative theological position.
Another article has to do with relations between the churches in the Netherlands and South Africa. It reads:
There has been a cooling process of recent years between the Reformed Church in South Africa (GKSA) and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN). Both churches have had close ties since their origin in the previous century. In recent years doubts have arisen whether to continue the present relationship of “correspondence.” A church in correspondence with another church freely accepts transfers of pastors and members. The two churches were among those that arranged the initial Reformed Ecumenical Synod in 1946 of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The recent General Synod of the Afrikaner church received overtures from a number of regional assemblies that the relationship now in effect be discontinued. The objections against the Dutch church centered in three areas:
(1) The theological views of Professor Harry Kuitert concerning Genesis and the resurrection and return of Christ, and the views of Dr. Herman Wiersinga on reconciliation. These cause much concern in South Africa.
(2) The church order which the GKN adopted in 1970 reveals different viewpoints concerning church office, authority, and polity.
(3) The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands recently became members of the World Council of Churches in opposition to the advice of the RES.
Within the Dutch Church also persons have become unenthusiastic about their relationship with the Reformed Church in South Africa. This dissatisfaction stems from the support of the Afrikaner church to the racial policy of apartheid in South Africa.
The General Synod did not adopt the proposals that the relationship be terminated on the ground that not everything that is possible and obligatory within the “correspondence” relationship to bring about a more satisfactory relationship has been done. An article in Die Kerkblad, official organ of the Reformed Church in South Africa, stated that within the next three years a careful study will be made and the matter will be brought to the Synod of 1976.
In an article in the Dutch Gereformeerd Weekblad, Professor Herman Ridderbos reflected upon these interchurch developments and urged that for as long as it is possible the present relationship should be maintained. “It is no art to be in ‘correspondence’ so long as there is no cloud in the sky and it is limited to presenting friendly addresses to each other’s Synods, and to transferring members and granting pulpit exchanges. But fellowship between churches is only then tested for its authenticity and strength when both parties have reason for criticism. Another advantage is that as long as the churches remain in correspondence with each other, various misunderstandings can be removed in the mutual exchange and all sorts of unjust criticism can be corrected.” . . .
Key 73 has come under some criticism because it was concentrating its zeal upon Jews to work for their conversion. This was especially distasteful to Jews themselves and seemed to be at odds with the general ecumenical spirit which prevails in today’s churches.
To answer the critics Billy Graham issued a public statement which was not only intended to be a defense of Key 73, but which also had a great deal to say about the nature of Key 73, its evangelistic methods, and Billy Graham’s own carefulness in maintaining a proper and acceptable ecumenical approach. The statement reads:
The reports about a growing misunderstanding in Christian-Jewish relationships over Key 73 has become a source of concern to me. In order to help ease some of these tensions, I want to explain my own position. While I have not been directly involved in the developing organization of Key 73, I have from the beginning publicly supported its concept.
First, as an evangelist, I am interested in establishing contacts with all men concerning personal faith in Jesus Christ. Implicit in any belief is the right of sharing it with others. The message that God is Love prompts any recipient of that love to declare it to others.
Secondly, just as Judaism frowns on proselyting that is coercive, or that seems to commit men against their will, so do I. Gimmicks, coercion, and intimidation have had no place in my evangelistic efforts, certainly not in historic biblical evangelism. The American genius is that without denying any one expression of their convictions, all are nevertheless partners in our society. The Gospel’s method is persuasive invitation, not coercion.
Where any group has used overbearing witness to seek conversions, the Bible calls it “zeal without knowledge.” I understand that it is the purpose of Key 73 to call all men to Christ without singling out any specific religious or ethnic group.
Thirdly, along with most evangelical Christians, I believe God has always had a special relationship with the Jewish people, as St. Paul suggests in the book of Romans. In my evangelistic efforts I have never felt called to single out the Jews as Jews nor to single out any other particular groups, cultural, ethnic, or religious.
Lastly, it would be my hope that Key 73, and any other spiritual outreach program, could initiate nation-wide conversations, which would raise the spiritual level of our people, and promote mutual understanding.
Following what has happened in the public schools in some parts of California, the Senate of the state of Tennessee voted to require all books dealing with human origins to label evolutionism as a theory. The Senate also agreed that other theories of origins should have equal space in textbooks, including the account of the Scriptures. The idea is not to forbid the teaching of evolutionism, but to give all views equal time and leave the actual decision up to the student. There are similar movements being started in other states.